John-Boy's graduation day is even sweeter when you know the real story behind his secondhand suit
This father-son moment from Earl Hamner's real life will make you misty-eyed.
It's a proud moment for John-Boy in The Waltons episode "The Graduation," which finds the oldest Walton kid finishing up high school and preparing to head off to college.
It's arguably a prouder moment for the family when John-Boy decides to sacrifice the new suit that the family bought for him to wear on his special day. After the family cow Chance dies, replacing Chance seems the obvious priority. We all know that John-Boy can graduate barefoot if he needs to.
Instead of sending John-Boy to the podium in his schoolboy clothes, though, the family puts in the love and work to get him looking good on graduation day another way.
The solution: Give John-Boy Grandpa's best suit, the one Grandpa expects to be buried in at the end of his days.
"It's not right to be wearin' tweed when you go to meet your maker!" Grandma tells Grandpa, using this as an excuse to alter the suit so it fits John-Boy just right.
This is not just a sweet moment we watched on The Waltons, but a story ripped nearly full-cloth from Waltons creator Earl Hamner's life. Somehow knowing the real story makes watching this Waltons episode even sweeter.
In James E. Person's Earl Hamner biography, Hamner reveals that in his life, it wasn't his grandpa who gave him fancy duds to send him off to college, but rather his dad.
Like John-Boy, Hamner planned to study writing at college, and he worked hard to earn himself a scholarship to cover some of the expenses. Person wrote that even with the scholarship, it took "great sacrifice" from the whole family to support young Hamner as he sought to chase his dreams.
It also took one generously gifted hand-me-down from Hamner's dad, Earl Sr.
Earl Sr. wanted his son to have fashionable clothes to make a good impression at college, so he loaned his son the white dress shirt that went with the older man's one and only suit.
Like Grandpa, Earl Sr. joked that this was the suit he intended to be buried in, teasing his son, as he allowed Jr. to borrow the shirt that Sr. wasn't sure how he'd be "laid out" should anything happen while Jr. was at school.
This scene would later become direct fodder for Earl Jr.'s hugely successful show.
After Hamner went off to college donning his dad's lone, freshly pressed white dress shirt, he continued working hard so that his family wouldn't have to make any more sacrifices on behalf of his dreams.
He did just about every job you can think of: delivering mail, going door to door as a census-taker, painting the university's dorms, and serving as a truck dispatcher. It was his time spent dispatching trucks that took the greatest toll, Hamner said.
"I worked from four in the afternoon until nine or ten at night," Hamner said. "Consequently, my grades were not the greatest because I was fatigued most of the time."
Hamner then shared a memory from his college commute that will likely transport you to his university days the same way his series sent us all to Waltons Mountain.
"I remember that to go home I would catch a streetcar on a corner next to a baker," Hamner said. "And you cannot imagine the stunning experience of sitting on a streetcar-stop bench in the rain, hungry as hell, and waiting for the streetcar to arrive, and breathing in the aroma of freshly baked bread."
Hamner always had a way with words, and as proof, you should know that in this time, while he was struggling to adjust to school, juggling jobs, and pining for a bite of bread in the rain, he was also penning the very first draft of the story that eventually grew up to become The Waltons.
That's the kinda grit and determination instilled in a kid from a family with a dad literally willing to give his son the shirt off his back. And those true stories are what make The Waltons a truly rich show.